India will be key growth engine market: Clive Armitage

08 May,2012

It’s been a modest start for Bite Communications that completed a year of operations inIndiarecently. Still a newbie in the trade, the agency expects to widen its strides as it prepares to take on larger challenges in the communications space. Confident of putting up a stellar show going forward, Clive Armitage, Co-founder & CEO of Bite Communications says that India will emerge one of the hottest growth engine markets for the agency given the unlimited scope it throws up for agencies.


In conversation with Johnson Napier of MxMIndia, Armitage delves on his agency’s performance in the past year inIndia, highlights a few markets that would help bring growth to the agency and maps out new avenues that would put the agency on a higher pedestal in the months to come. Excerpts:


It’s been a year of existence for Bite Communications in India. As you look back, how would you analyse your journey thus far?

There are different ways in which you can measure the growth of an agency – on a financial basis, on a reputational basis or on a service basis. The most important thing that you do when you start an agency is make sure that you start it with a good foundation because it’s the foundation that will decide how your agency will grow or sustain itself in the future. When we came intoIndia, we weren’t sitting here saying that the most important thing for us is to grow very quickly and earn lots of money but what we wanted to do was come into the market and establish a strong team doing really good work. The assumption was that if we do that, it will lead to a good performance on the financial front as well. I think after a year we have done exactly that. We have a good team out here who are working with clients that have a great calibre in the industry.


Are you content with the way the Indian team has gone about establishing the network in India, especially the manner in which they have attracted clients onboard ?

What we wanted to do when we started was be relatively selective around the clients that we work with. What we don’t want to be is an agency which is just the arms and legs to a client. We want to be a strategic partner to help the client achieve their goals. All of the client engagements that we have now got, we have been fortunate enough to establish that kind of a relationship. There have been moments when we have turned the client away because they didn’t want to work with us as they weren’t willing to consider digital solutions and other such things. From that standpoint, we have been able to meet our stated objective. The other thing to be stated here is that it is a pretty simple business model: if you hire a bunch of people and you want them to be really motivated and stick around, you have to give them a chance to work around big clients. If they get to work on clients who are just doing low profile jobs the best thing to do is leave. The thing about our team here is that we allow them to do big work with our clients. Obviously, every client is different and you do get challenging clients that are demanding, and we’ve had a fair share of those, but I think the current client base is what we are happy with and are seeing them grow very well. So we have seen a great start but it is just an introductory chapter to the book; there are many more chapters to write and much more work to be done.


Despite India being a relatively nascent market, how do you see it shaping up as a market of choice for Bite Communications?

The thing is that we have around 14 offices around the world. So when we have clients elsewhere and when we refer it to newer offices we are always nervous on how that relationship is going to go. The teams have to be strong and reliable enough that whenever we come across an opportunity to expand our relationship with our clients, we have tremendous confidence that we can suggestIndiaas an option and know that the work gets done and the result is going to be superb.


How do the offices in Asia Pacific and around the globe stack up against each other?

We have our office inHong Kongthat employs around 40 people. We also have offices inBeijing,Shanghai,SingaporeandSydney. Across the region we have around 100 people andIndiais our newest and favourite child. If I look around the business on a global basis, I have to look at where the growth potential is. Personally for me, the three markets that have the biggest growth potential include North America,ChinaandIndia. North America is a fairly established market already and there is more scope for growth but inChinawhere we have about 40 people and about 8-10 inIndia, we’ve got plenty of potential for rapid growth. That’s how I look atIndiaas a market – it’s one of the engines for the next 5-10 years for the growth of the business. Engine by the following aspects: one, by the sheer headcount and revenues and two, by innovation. Historically, we have a heavy focus on technology and as marketing gradually starts to evolve I seeIndiahaving a great advantage in terms of innovation and starting to deliver on some of the products that we can further use on a global basis.


While you’re ideally tagged a small agency given the staff headcount, how would you associate Bite Communications as an emerging agency in India?

We are 250-people strong agency across the 14 offices that we have our presence in. I would define us as being a small global network. Our objective is to be in a business that has a higher headcount across the offices that we are present in. I do not believe in the model whereby you have to have a dot on the map of every city. The challenge to that is you end up losing your overall proposition if you have a network that’s very huge. For us, we have around 14-15 offices that are strong and large enough that they can serve the needs of the clients at strategic locations around the world. Probably the countries where we need to make ourselves felt isBrazilandRussiawhere we work on partnerships and are not present there yet. So the next two years or so would be about those two locations and looking at ways to get into them and also growing smaller and younger offices likeIndiavery quickly.


What is the role you see digital taking up for you in India?

We are ambitious about the future and think about digital as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the PR industry to get out of the PR silo and get into large and marquee budgets – that’s what we are hungry for. We feel digital will help us become a much larger and bigger agency much quicker than the others.


The Indian PR market is a cluttered one with more than 2000-odd agencies fighting it out to grab the mindshare of clients. What is the future you foresee for the PR space in India?

I think there is plenty of scope for growth for PR agencies inIndia. I think it’s a reflection of how clients have become more mature and are ultimately left thinking and have started to fuel the need for working with specialist agencies inIndia. The space has become very competitive right now and it wasn’t the case around 8-10 years ago. I think the agencies that have a clear proposition and remain differentiated will manage to win the trust of their clients. We are not afraid of competition; we welcome it. It only inspires us to be more different and creative than most.


As you move forward, what is the goalpost that you’ve set for the agency?

The goalpost for me is not financial, it is going to be based around the type of work we do – increasingly doing more and more integrated communication campaigns. We still are a traditional agency but we want to be winning more awards for our integrated work which demonstrate we can take great content from client’s point of view in the marketplace and then deliver that to a commercial benefit via a host of different channels be it traditional media or digital media. The challenge for the team here is demonstrate that you can do that for the outside market place to gain a reputation – do that and all the financial success and growth will follow.


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